The Real Rate of Recovery, Part 4: Involuntary Part-Time Employment

March 23, 2015

Nicolas Buffie

Many media outlets cite the official unemployment rate—the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U-3 unemployment rate—when reporting on the recovery in the jobs market. This rate stood at 5.0 percent in December 2007 (the first month of the recession) and rose to a high of 10.0 percent in October 2009; it has since fallen to 5.5 percent. Relative to its peak, the unemployment rate has made up 90 percent of the ground lost between December 2007 and October 2009. However, there are good reasons to think that the unemployment rate overstates the degree of recovery in the job market. We are presenting a series of five measures that provide insights on employment and unemployment that aren’t captured by the official unemployment rate. One such measure is discussed here.

Involuntary Part-Time Employment as a Percentage of Total Employment

Involuntary part-time employment, as a percentage of total employment, shows the percentage of Americans who work part-time for economic reasons but who would like to work full-time.

 Involuntary Part Time Employment

Importance of this measure

The official unemployment rate and measures of employment like the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) are quantitative assessments of the jobs market. These measures give us useful information, but even if they are completely accurate, they do not tell us much about what it is like to be employed. Looking at involuntary part-time employment—defined as working 1 to 34 hours a week due to economic reasons like unfavorable business conditions or an inability to find full-time work—is a valuable way of assessing the quality of employment. Involuntary part-time employment increased as a percentage of total employment during the recession and has yet to recover, indicating that purely quantitative measures of the labor market overstate the degree of recovery.

Employment Recovery Watch

  • December 2007 Involuntary Part-Time Employment Percentage: 3.16 percent
  • Peak: In March of 2010, involuntary part-time employment hit a high of 6.65 percent of total employment
  • February 2015 Involuntary Part-Time Employment Percentage: 4.47 percent
  • Percent Recovered: 62.5 percent


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